Thursday, June 11, 2009

Colony Collapse Disorder Update

Jake Putnam photo

Bee Mortality Linked to Parasites

Washington--US Department of Agriculture Scientists have sequenced the genome of a parasite that’s been killing off honey bees. Nosema ceranae is one of many pathogens suspected of wiping out bee populations across the country.

Last year Colony Collapse Disorder made headlines as millions of colonies of honey bees disappeared. Idaho beekeepers reported losses but not as severe as other states. Many beekeepers reported losses of up to 90 percent, according to USDA statistics. Researchers think CCD may be the result of a combination of pathogens, parasites and stress factors, but the cause remains elusive. The stakes are high because honey bees account for at least $15 billion dollars in US crop production.

The microsporidian Nosema is a fungus-related microbe that produces spores that bees consume when they forage. Infection spreads from their digestive tract to other tissues. Within weeks, colonies are either wiped out or lose much of their strength. Nosema apis was the leading cause of microsporidia infections among domestic bee colonies until recently when N. ceranae jumped from Asian honey bees to the European honey bees used commercially in the United States.

Sequencing the genome should help scientists trace the parasite's migration patterns, determine how it became dominant, and help resolve the spread of infection by enabling the development of diagnostic tests and treatments.

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